I went to Bett 17 with some specific tasks in mind. For a few years now, at my home school we have operated Tasc Software’s Insight – allowing parents to contact staff, update personal information, view reports and book their parents’ evening slots.
On the whole, this has gone well, uptake is high and we have now gone paperless – meaning for the vast majority of parents this is the only way they can get at booking slots and their reports, for example.
Lots of schools shy away from these systems, worried about those without internet, and forcing parents to use the internet to access vital information – but without such an all or nothing approach, uptake would be too small to make it worthwhile and gain savings. Of course we cannot exclude those without internet access, however, the actual numbers of those without access to any internet enabled device is incredibly low, and so, by doing it this way – we simply only have to cater for the very few (if any) parents without connectivity.
The key is accessibility and simplicity. Two things I think our current setup misses – we have Epraise, Insight and ParentPay, all with different usernames and passwords. This is overload for most parents, and certainly when they approach us for support, they are often confused as to which system they need access to and why.
So, at BETT one of my key aims was to simply the experience for parents. This would either means combining and therefore reducing systems or ensuring the systems are unique enough, and had some way of sharing login details.
Of course, sharing login details comes with problems between systems that you need to ensure are verfied accounts, you couldn’t, for example, allow Facebook login which would be the ideal!
So, my idea was to try and combine all these aspects into one. Also to find a system that visually was appealing and accessible, and that took less time to manage.
I found a solution in two ways – firstly, a very timely email from Epraise founder and developer and all around nice chap Ben – about a potential parents evening add on for the already fantastic Epraise product. Epraise, an online points based achievement system is already well liked and used by staff. The system has some unique touches in terms of teaching tools that staff love – parental access is already enabled, and the parents evening module would be an extension of this, albeit a till under development feature, I have high hopes. This would mean, we could get rid of Insight if we could find an effective way to manage and change parental details.
And along comes the new SIMs parent app. Now, like Microsoft in my previous blog, I have always avoided Capita at BETT, they make SIMs, and for the most part, I have had to go on a steep learning curve with SIMs. However, over the years I have been impressed with what I have been able to achieve, in what is clearly a complex area to be an MIS supplier in. Let’s not hold back, the interface of SIMs is terrible. Users hate it. And with good reason. But the thing is, Capita know this.
It may have taken sometime, but I actually sense this has been known in the backround for a while. I got to speak to Phil Neal at BETT, and listen to the presentation on the future of SIMs, seeing an online version of SIMs set to launch late 17/early 2018 – which clearly shows the hardwork going on to make the system easy to manage (web based) and more visually appealing. Phil confirmed that this has been something they have been working hard on.
— St Bede’s IT Support (@STBICT) January 26, 2017
The thing is, though, if you have been using some of the add ons to SIMs, for a while now, you will see that UI has been improving. Indeed, Discover has a very nice UI and is a fantastic visual tool. Even Intouch, for sending a message, its a usable and fairly intuitive UI, if a little ugly – but the apps have been very visually appealing, the UI and usability of the staff app has actually been its major selling point.
In other news, I am putting forward plans to stop using biometrics for registration – and look to user the class teacher app. It is now tried and tested, and offers other options (like behaviour logging and assessment) all in one app. As all our staff have iPads, will be much quicker registration then bio, and also encourage iPads to be in every lesson and so use the Epraise app too.
Back to the new parents’ app – it simply makes updating personal information, seeing attendance information, reports and behaviour very easy. I have always found it hard to be sold on an app, because of its availability to all – but Capita have this covered with android, Windows and iOS versions ready to go made this another timely release for us. Meaning we can, over the next 6-8 months transition from 3 systems to 2.
— St Bede’s IT Support (@STBICT) January 26, 2017
There is still a market for a product that can do it all, and do it all well. But I don’t think that has been developed yet. I would rather have 2 systems doing it well, then one doing it bad.
It’s great to see that Capita are working on the interface issues and usability being a central theme of their development. I look forward to the day of no more rolling SIMs out, with updates just being done, like we already have with epraise.
In that respect, I had a fantastic talk with Ben from Epraise (ironically we met on the capita stand!) – it’s great to be able to meet and talk about developments with him. What Epraise has achieved in our schools is one of the biggest success stories of my time there. The system has engaged kids, parents and staff and made achievements visible. But it’s great to see the system always in development, and those developments actually being useful.
— epraise.co.uk (@epraiseUK) January 27, 2017